Stunning Developments in San Carlos-CalFire Relationship

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Just when you thought the talk of budget cuts and outsourcing with regard to city services could not get any worse, well, it just took a sharp right-hand turn toward crazy town and has city leaders up in arms.

How we got here:

For those of you unfamiliar with the city’s current plan to save about one million dollars a year on fire services, here’s what happened:  San Carlos has been able to offer fire protection services through the city’s participation in the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department JPA.  Under this agreement, San Carlos and Belmont shared the costs of the fire department and were able to offer both towns suitable protection.  The relationship soured between the two towns for a variety of reasons, and in April, San Carlos sent Belmont a letter stating that as of October 12, 2011, San Carlos would be withdrawing and effectively dissolving the JPA. It was anticipated by San Carlos city leaders, that the ability to withdraw from the JPA and outsource their fire protection needs would save the city roughly a million dollars a year.

From Strange to Bizarre:

It was thought that the most likely candidate to provide services to San Carlos was CalFire.  At least that was the thought, until yesterday.  CalFire informed San Carlos that it was going to opt-out of providing a proposal for services.  That news was bizarre enough, however, it’s one of the primary reasons CalFire gave for not submitting a proposal that has city leaders up in arms.  CalFire stated that out of  “concern from regional Legislative members and significant opposition from local labor organizations” as a reason for not submitting a proposal.  Reading between the lines, it seems apparent that union leaders got to CalFire.  City Councilman Omar Ahmad had this to say, ““I’m personally sick. Maybe this is payback for Proposition 22. I don’t know. But I’m angry. How are we supposed to run a city and ask people to come in and give us their best ideas when you have unions and legislators slapping people around. What the hell?”

City Attorney Greg Rubens seemed equally stunned.  “I’ve never in my years of practice seen groups and people try to influence a situation in which the city lawfully put out a [request for proposal],” Rubens said. “If true, this is disappointing.”

CalFire’s Reasoning:

CalFire is citing a “totality of circumstances” for not offering a proposal. Among their concerns are (1) compressed time to get a deal in place; (2) an evaluation of San Carlos city finances (3) State priorities would take precedence over San Carlos; and (4)..and by far the most telling, Cal Fire states “socio-political aspects”….which basically means that without the support of legislative leaders and labor groups, Cal Fire would worry about being brought into legal matters for which it would need to pay its own way.


It doesn’t take a genius to read the true meaning of (4) above. There seems to be no doubt from many close to the situation that additional pressure was put on CalFire from outside sources.  Remember, CalFire initially gave an informal proposal to San Carlos when outsourcing was first being discussed.  Something clearly changed CalFire’s mind between then and now.  CalFire adamantly denies any type of outside pressure and insists that their decision to suddenly opt-out of providing a service proposal was based on an extensive 14 point evaluation system….some of those points are listed above.

San Carlos will still be able to outsource its fire services, but the truly unfortunate fact is that they may not be able to save as much money as once anticipated when the decision was made to withdraw from the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department JPA. However, this will remain to be seen.

More will be published as this story develops.  This article was written with significant contribution from the San Mateo Daily Journal.  A link to that article can be found by clicking here.

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